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Spalletti: Italy outclassed by game’s ‘best’ Spain

Italy coach Luciano Spalletti could not be clearer: Play like they did against Spain and they will not retain the European Championship.

“They caused us problems beyond what the scoreline suggests and we can’t beat around the bush on that,” Spalletti said after his team’s 1-0 loss to the dominant Spanish on Thursday.

It was billed as the first heavyweight matchup of Euro 2024, but there was a huge difference in quality, as Spalletti pointed out.

“There was too much of a gulf in terms of sharpness and freshness,” he said, adding: “We were never in the game.”

Spain’s pressure had Italy in scramble mode throughout the 90 minutes and Spalletti’s side finally conceded when the dazzling Nico Williams‘ cross was redirected into the net by Riccardo Calafiori for an own goal.

The scoreline would have been more lopsided if it weren’t for Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who turned in a string of saves to keep his team close.

“We are angry,” Donnarumma said after the match. “Let’s use this to motivate ourselves for the next games, our destiny is in our hands.”

Spalletti is attempting to change Italy’s playing style by pushing his players to control games more and dominate possession, rather than rely on defensive strength that has characterized the best Italy teams down the years.

He isn’t ready to give up on that.

“Everyone would love to copy Spain,” Spalletti said. “They have played the best football for the longest time. I need to make my players aware of how important this match is because it becomes very challenging if you just sit deep.

“You have to overhaul the concept and mentality of the team and just chase after the ball and cede it to them. But I don’t want to play like that. I don’t know how to coach how to do that. I’m the least-suited person to do that so you need to play the ball and keep possession.

“And try to get hold of the game and take it by the scruff of the neck. That’s the only way.”

Spalletti partially blamed himself for the loss, which came five days after Italy’s come-from-behind 2-1 win over Albania in Group B.

“Maybe I needed to give them more rest,” he said. “Probably more days off because we gave them a day and a half [off] and thought that was the right decision after looking at the GPS data, but there was too much of a gulf. We were constantly stretched and never able to squeeze the gaps.”

Italy must avoid defeat by Croatia on Monday to guarantee progression in the tournament, and may take inspiration from Spain.

“When the legs don’t work, character and personality don’t matter,” he added.

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